Chola Festival Bronzes:
Sacred bronzes, dressed, adorned, and taken in procession through temple and town are a familiar sight throughout Tamil Nadu and its surrounding areas. But did we know that the practice of parading sacred images in this manner dates back at least 1500 years? And that adorning them with silks and jewels has a similar ancient ancestry?
Dr. Vidya Dehejia gives us glimpses of newly uncovered research material in her recent book, The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855-1280 (Princeton University Press, 2021).
She introduces us to this tradition that reached a peak during the period of Chola rule when master craftsmen created sensuous images for temples, patrons commissioned sets of jewellery to adorn them, and devotees arranged for temple food to be provided to all who attended these festivities. This way of life, that resulted in a congenial and connected community, thrived for centuries, through the British period and into contemporary India, as a vibrant tradition that has inspired devotees and poets, musicians and dancers and, more recently, museums and collectors.
Dr. Vidya Dehejia is currently the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian Art at Columbia University, New York. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and guides doctoral students on South Asian art from the early Buddhist period to modern and contemporary art.
Over the past 45 years, she has combined research with teaching and exhibition-related activities around the world. She has done extensive field work in South Asia, with visits to sites of importance in Southeast Asia, gaining familiarity with the art of the region. She has explored at length the theoretical basis for the portrayal of visual narratives in the context of India’s sculpture and painting and examined issues of gender and colonialism.
Over the years, her work has ranged from Buddhist art of the centuries BC to the esoteric temples of North India, and from the sacred bronzes of South India to art under the British Raj. Dr. Vidya Dehejia also has Management and curatorial experience at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries providing a broad mandate to convey the excitement of the field of South Asian art to non-specialist audiences.